Leroux returns but Angel City falls to the Red Stars, 2-1

Credit: Cris Esqueda
Sydney Leroux played her first game in 311 days, but Angel City lost, 2-1.

LOS ANGELES — For Angel City, at No. 10 in the NWSL standings and with no wins in the last five games (in all competitions), three points against the Chicago Red Stars could have gone a long way. However, Angel City’s comeback efforts fell short, losing 2-1 at home. 

Forward Ava Cook scored two goals in the first 28 minutes, both from set pieces to give the Red Stars the early lead. Angel City rallied to pull one back 88 minutes into the game, but their efforts fell short. 

Despite the loss, Angel City fans were cheering in the final moments because forward Sydney Leroux returned to the team. After being sidelined for 311 days due to an ankle injury, Leroux entered 75 minutes into the game to loud cheers from the crowd.

“Sydney, Sydney, Sydney,” they chanted.

Credit: Cris Esqueda

Head coach Freya Coombe said last week that those cheers would be the loudest of the year. But she was incorrect because when Leroux received a cross from Alyssa Thompson 88 minutes into the game and put the ball in the net, the crowd of 16,682 at BMO Stadium erupted. 

“Alyssa [Thompson], she is amazing, and I’m excited to play with her more,” Leroux said. “I knew when she got that ball, that ball was coming in the box, and I was going to get there first, and she knew that too. It’s a nice little connection to have, and hopefully, we can share the running. That’ll be fun.”

Leroux was unsure if she would return to professional soccer when she sustained the injury. And even as she neared the field again, she did not know if she would return to full form. But the goal against the Red Stars lifted her spirits. 

“It meant a lot to me. It’s definitely been an emotional year. I didn’t know if I would be able to put on this jersey again and be able to play the way that I know I can play. So to come on, to feel like I’m back, to not have any issues, and to play without pain was really special. We wish that the score was a little different, but I think we showed that we can play tough, and that’s what we need to do, but for 90 minutes plus,” Leroux said. 

Coombe said Leroux will be on a minutes restriction in the coming weeks to ensure she returns safely. The team will see how her body reacts to the playing time to ensure she is consistently available in the future.

Aside from Leroux, forward Claire Emslie was Angel City’s catalyst on the attack. She attempted 11 crosses and created four chances, but none were converted to goals. She also led the team in shots with three, tying midfielder Julie Ertz and defender Mary Alice Vignola’s totals. 

Despite Leroux and Emslie’s production, Angel City only managed one goal. Much of this was because the Red Stars back line blocked many of Angel City’s shots; out of Angel City’s 15 shots, five were blocked, and seven were off target, leaving only three on goal. Despite having 35 touches in the Red Stars’ box, Angel City only managed three shots on target.

Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher also helped the Red Stars slow down Angel City by scooping up long through balls and crosses.

Forward Scarlett Camberos and midfielder Lily Nabet earned their first NWSL regular season starts this season. However, neither played the full 90 minutes, as both were substituted off the field. Coombe said both earned their starts by competing in training and in NWSL Challenge Cup matches. 

“Those players now who are willing to fight and compete, they get to play. It’s can we now have a full squad that is doing that and competing throughout training and making sure those are the players that we got on the field” Coombe said.

Nabet led the team in recoveries with nine, winning multiple tackles. Offensively, she held the ball under pressure. 

Camberos only touched the ball 26 times, the fifth lowest on the team. Arguably her most significant one came 42 minutes into the game when she was tackled to the ground in the box, but no penalty was called to her dissatisfaction.

Angel City also celebrated Juneteenth. Before the game, the Shea Butter FC podcast recorded live segments with general manager Angles Hucles Mangano and injured forward Simone Charley during the street fair. 

Then, former soccer player and commentator Cobi Jones and Charley led the three clap. Angel City also hosted multiple black performers, and others, throughout the evening. 

Next, Angel City plays the Washington Spirit on the road on Saturday.